More than half the 116 passengers and crew on board a crashed Nigerian airliner survived the disaster, a spokesman for the government of the state where the plane came down
told AFP.

Bellview Airlines flight 210 took off at 8.45pm (1945 GMT) on Saturday night and lost contact with the control tower minutes later during a heavy storm.

The authorities located the wreckage of the Boeing 737-200 airliner in Kishi, Oyo state, in southwestern Nigeria about 200km north of Lagos, a police source said about 12 hours later.

Adeola Oloko, Oyo State's chief press secretary, said that all
medical personnel in the region had been asked to head to the crash site to tend the injured. 

"More than half the people on board survived," he said.

Remi Oyo, spokeswoman for Nigeria's President Obasanjo,
confirmed that the federal government had reports of survivors.

"God has been gracious, but I don't have the figures yet," she

Distress call

Information Minister Frank Nweke told state radio earlier: "The government has been able to confirm that Bellview flight 210 may have gone down, thereby confirming our worst fears."

The plane took off from Murtala
Mohammed International airport

The plane was carrying 116 people: 110 passengers, including some senior officials, and six crew members, the authorities said. 

Initially, it was not known whether the plane had crashed, been hijacked or had made an emergency landing. 

But the pilot made a distress call minutes after take-off on Saturday night, indicating the plane had a technical problem, a source at the presidency said.

High-ranking officials

State radio reported that several high-ranking government officials were on the plane, but did not name them.

Another Boeing 737-200 jet
crashed in Indonesia last month

The privately owned Nigerian airline is popular with expatriates. Western diplomats feared several of their citizens could have been on board. 

Dozens of flights run each day between the port of Lagos, one of the world's biggest cities, and Abuja in the heart of Africa's most populous nation. 

A group of about 10 men and women were singing prayers for missing relatives in the deserted airport building on Sunday.

More than 140 people died in May 2002 when a Nigerian aeroplane slammed into a poor suburb in the northern city of Kano, killing people on board and on the ground. The aircraft ploughed into about 10 buildings shortly after take-off.

In September, a Boeing 737-200, operated by Indonesian carrier Mandala Airlines, crashed just after takeoff near Medan in Indonesia, killing 149 people.